Alibi V.26 No.38 • Sept 21-27, 2017 

Restaurant Review

A Plateful of Tortillas, Please

On Duran Central Pharmacy and the Himalayas

The Counter at Duran Central Pharmacy
The Counter at Duran Central Pharmacy
Eric Williams Photography
What's in a tortilla? Well, besides flour, water and some fat—either vegetable or animal, depending on individual preference or health requirements—there's often a story. Or two. Or many, perhaps even a dozen.

Often times, one of those narratives has to do with history and tradition. First, there's the history of unleavened flatbread, a popular human consumable whose existence reaches into ancient times. Reports indicate that Mesoamericans developed the corn tortilla thousands of years ago.

Spaniards conquering the American continent were surprised to find that these tortillas (literally little cakes) resembled the chick pea-based flatbread of Arabic origin that the Spanish usurpers brought with them as a staple.

Sometime after la Conquista, an unknown but unforgettable cook with access to wheat flour—nestled somewhere in the Arcadian splendor that was once Central Mexico—came up with a recipe for what we now consider familiar and comforting.

How comforting is the tortilla? Here's a brief anecdote that may answer the question.

Twenty years ago, when I was tripping through the Kali Gandaki valley on the way to Muktinath to meet with the monks who guarded the sacred fountains of Vishnu, I was distracted by two things. One thing was the difficulty of the hike up into the Himalayas.

The other thing that hung like an albatross around my fat neck was my absence from Burque. Nightly, after each exhausting day of trooping up into the mountains, I missed the hell outta food from home and subsequently dreamt of platefuls of tortillas. One night, at a trekker's lodge in Jomsom, I noticed the place had burritos on its simple dinner menu.

Pushing my anxiety aside, hauling that big white bird outta my way so it did not cause my head to hang so low and heavily, I ordered. In 10 minutes a man arrived at my table with a burrito. It was filled with lentils, yak cheese and sriracha sauce. Stunned, I asked what the tortilla was made from; the Sherpa who brought the lovely meal to me gestured to the open door, to the immense green terraces rising up from the river valley. “Buckwheat,” he said proudly. I dug in, dazed, delirious and damn hungry.

The next day, filled with the exuberance of comfort—the memory of home assuaged by vasty verisimilitude—I raced up the mountain. I arrived at the holy shrine about midday, gratefully throwing coins to the monks and bathing in the golden fountains, newly refreshed and with a mind to return to the Moonlight Lodge in Jomsom as soon as I formally paid my respects to a group of curious Hindu arhats who mistook me for some hoary traveler from the south lands.

Now that you have an idea about how serious I take tortillas and their consumption, I want to tell you all about my dining experiences at Duran Central Pharmacy, a local eatery that's built its reputation on delicious, homemade flour tortillas and all that fills them.

Duran presents itself simply. It is, after all, primarily a place where citizens go to get medicine. Since 1965, it's also been serving la comida Nueva Mexicana to people that crave an authentic dining experience. Everything at Duran is made in-house by an OG gang of gastronomes whose loyalty to tradition is unmatched in Burque.

A stuffed sopaipilla
A stuffed sopaipilla
Eric Williams Photography

En serio, I've tried just about everything on Duran's menu, even the trayf-tastic carne adovada, which HaShem forgive me, is irresistibly tender, piquant and satisfying.

Their chicken enchilada plate features sumptuous chunks of braised breast meat soothingly set in a great green chile sauce that'll have eaters jumping for joy—and a glass of ice-cold water—as they gobble down that goodness. The queso blanco that covers this delicacy adds a consummately creamy finish to the concoction.

Duran's torpedo, one of my favorite menu items, is a fresh-as-a-fall morning burrito stuffed with potatoes, chile and cheese. It's a great way to start the day, whether you plan on hiking or just need energy to get through a busy day at the office.

Huevos rancheros at Duran are so close to the homemade variety that I nearly went back to the kitchen—last week when I stopped by for breakfast—to see if the ghost of my mother wasn't back there directing the whole affair.

And the tortillas involved in each of the meals I took at Duran? Hand-rolled, cooked on a comal and presented hot and fresh, they're certainly the best restaurant tortillas in town, rivaling those found at other New Mexican places I really dig, like Garcia's and Monica's El Portal. Otherwise it's hard to describe something so perfect, so bound up in the ideals of tradition yet grounded in the reality of good eats. Plainly stated: They're flaky, fluffy and seriously addictive.

So next time you’re stuck out there in the wilderness, or for that matter wandering through our little city with food and comfort on your mind, think about tortillas. Better yet, think about the tortillas at Duran Central Pharmacy and head on over. They might not be served up by a mysterious mountain man, but I guarantee they'll be wondrous nonetheless.

Lalo Guerrero: “Theres No Tortillas”

View in Alibi Chowtown Chowtown

Duran Central Pharmacy

1815 Central NW
duransrx.com
Hours: Mon-Tue 9am-6:30pm, Wed-Sun 9am-8pm
Vibe: Old school authentic
Alibi Recommends: Hand-rolled tortillas, green chile chicken enchilada plate, torpedo